Serge and Beate Klarsfeld are not your average married couple. The two spend their entire lives tracking down Nazis in all corners of the earth who have yet to face justice. Overall they had a mixture of successes and failures. Their most significant accomplishment was bringing attention to the cause through public humiliation. Together they founded the organization called Sons and Daughters of People Deported from France.
Serge was one of these sons. He survived the Holocaust, but his family did not. He, his sister and his mother hid from the Nazi’s behind a fake wall in Nice, France. His father remained in plain sight to distract the Nazi’s from performing a search on their house. He was taken by the French police and sent to Auschwitz. That was the last time Serge saw his father.
Beate has a different story. She’s not a Jew. Beate is German and dedicates her life to hunting down Nazi’s who think the world forgot about them as a form of atonement. Her father was Protestant and fought as a soldier in the Wehrmacht. Although he wasn’t a member of the Nazi party, Beate is sure he would not approve of the work she does today.
The two met on the platform at a Metro station in Paris. She was working as an Au repair. At the time Serge was the administrator of a radio station. He was already a historian and working his way to becoming a lawyer. The two found each other and spoke about Serge’s experience hiding from the Nazi’s in the South side of France, and losing his father.
That day they decided to track down all Nazi perpetrators who have yet been served rightful justice. “You have to hunt them down. People need to be made aware of the crimes of these people as a warning for future generations that they can’t expect to get away with it. I`ll keep doing this as long as possible,” Beate said in an interview years later.
They gathered information about the Nazi’s that led to their trials and convictions, but it was more than just that. In 1968 Beate interrupted a meeting at the West German parliament and shouted at Georg Kiesinger, the Chancellor at that time. She publicly shamed him, calling him a Nazi. When this stunt didn’t bring enough attention to his criminal past, she took it a step further.
At a political rally, Beate jumped on the podium and slapped Kiesinger in the face. Again, she let the world know who Chancellor Kiesinger really was. Although many cheered her on, Beate was sentenced to a year in prison but only served four months. Her protest for justice didn’t stop there.
Beate and Serge spent a significant amount of time tracking down Alois Brunner, a Nazi who served as Adolf Eichmann’s assistant. He is responsible for the murder of 43,000 Parisian Jews as well as 66,000 Jews in Salonika and 13,000 Jews in Slovakia.
They learned that Brunner was hiding out in Damascus, Syria. He worked for the Syrian government using the fake name Georg Fischer. Beate’s mission was to find out where he was hiding then give the information to Israelis to capture him.
“I borrowed our maid’s passport, changed my hairstyle to look like her and got into Syria. In Damascus, I found his phone number – he was living under an assumed name, Georg Fischer – and I pretended to be a Nazi myself,” she said.
“I said that he ought to leave his apartment because the Israelis knew where he was. He said, ‘Thank you, my dear,’” Beate explained in a later interview. Her plan was almost perfect, but before Israelis were able to configure a plan to capture Brunner, he had already taken Beate’s advice and escaped. They never found him, but later understood that he passed away years after they tried to bring him to his trial.
The two were, however, successful in bringing Klaus Barbie to justice. Barbie was also known as The Butcher of Lyon. He got the nickname after he murdered thousands of Jews as chief Gestapo in the city.
Serge and Beate tracked him down in Bolivia after they got word he was hiding there. Eventually, Barbie was sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity where he died.
This Nazi Hunting duo gained even more attention as they tracked down several other Nazis. The found and exposed Rene Bousquet who was head of Jewish affairs in France. Rene Bousquet discovered hundreds of Jewish children hiding in a village and sent them all to Auschwitz. Bousquet was assassinated right before he was supposed to go on trial for his horrific crimes against humanity.
Serge and Beate were both sentenced to prison in 1974 after they tried to kidnap Kurt Lischka. Lischka did not even try to hide his identity. People knew he was a German and his lived as if nothing happened for years. Lischka became a judge in West Germany.
During WW2 he served as head of Gestapo in Paris for some time, and is responsible for the deportation of 75,000 Jews from France, to the concentration camps. Although the kidnapping wasn’t successful, they brought enough attention to the Nazi, and he was sentenced to jail.
Throughout their entire journey for justice, their most prominent accomplishment involved altering German laws to allow them to trial criminals for offenses they committed outside of Germany.
“Germany wouldn’t extradite Nazis, and their law wouldn’t allow them to trial criminals for offenses outside the country. It took nine years, but we got the law changed. Our own relations with Germany are very good. We are friends of the German ambassador, and we have been greeted by Angela Merkel,” The Klarsfelds explain.
The story of this couple is nothing short of exemplary. Together, they decided to do more than just continue on the traditional path of life. They set on a mission to make the world a just place while bringing attention to atrocities that history must simply not forget.